“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
There is a moment in Church history that is important to the Christian community, but is little known. In January, 1827, an intellectually gifted, and articulate 27 years old man by the name of John Nelson Darby (Nov. 18, 1800 – April 29, 1882), began to openly teach a novel idea about the future. His idea was destined to challenge historic Christianity, because it captured the imagination of the world, and still fascinates people to this very hour. Books have been written using his idea. Movies have been made. Study Bibles have promoted his novel teaching.
In order to appreciate how radical Darby’s new idea was, you must first understand the historic faith of the Church about the future, as set forth in Scripture, restated in the Creeds of Christendom,
and defended in various Ecumenical Councils prior to the 19th h century. To know the historic faith about the future, turn in your Bible to Acts 1:11.
The setting for this passage is 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Lord had taken His disciples to a place outside of Jerusalem. While they watched in astonishment, Jesus began to ascend into heaven, and vanished out of their sight. So transfixed were the disciples by this event, they stood confounded, gazing into the sky. Suddenly, an angel appeared and spoke to the disciples saying
“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
In simple language the angel revealed that Jesus would one day come again to earth in the very same way He ascended into heaven, slowly, visibly, and bodily.
The disciples were satisfied with the divine revelation, and returned to Jerusalem to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come, so they could effectively witness to all the nations on earth.
For the next 30 years, new Christians were taught that Jesus was going to return in the very same way He ascended into heaven. This became known as, “The Blessed Hope,” or better, the blessed confidence that Jesus was coming again. Jesus was alive, and He would return. This was His promise.
Then, in the providence of God, c. AD 64, the Holy Spirit led another author, perhaps Paul, to write a general letter to the Hebrew Christians throughout the Roman Empire. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the promise of the return of Jesus to earth was restated, with an important detail added. Notice the text of Hebrews 9:28.
“So, Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him, shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
Notice the time boundary established by God the Holy Spirit in AD 64. Jesus shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation. For 1,827 years, the Church embraced the simplicity of Jesus coming a second time for all who believe. This was the gospel truth that was contended for, according to the known will of God.
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
The Doctrine of the Second Coming of Jesus, was the gospel truth, the early Church affirmed in the Apostle’s Creed, dated, c. 140 AD.
“I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come
to judge the quick
and the dead.”
For 1, 827 years the Church believed and taught that Jesus Christ was going to come the second time for all who believe, and that His descent would be just like the way He ascended, slowly, visibly, and bodily.
All of that changed in January, 1827 when John Nelson Darby began to write about a new theory, that prior to the return of Jesus there would be another coming of Christ, a third coming, whereby the Lord would remove people from great tribulation that was coming upon the earth.
To people in Europe, and in America, such an idea was electrifying, and welcomed, because many people were afraid of their present state of existence, and were terrified of their future. Many people thought the world was going to end very soon. Life could not get much worse. Such thinking is understandable when it is remembered what was going on in society.
Step back in time, for just a moment, to the early 1800’s and empathize with what was happening.
Europe was trying to recover from being ravished by the Napoleonic Wars. A 23-year period of recurrent conflicts finally came to an end with the Battle of Waterloo, and Napoleon’s second abdication on June 22, 1815. Those who believed Napoleon was anti-Christ, or a Beast of the Revelation, rejoiced at his death. He was an evil man.
Today, it is hard to image the devastation the wars of Europe had caused. Time has a way of romanticizing the past, and anesthetizing the memory of the horrors of a world at war. In 1800, John Nelson Darby was born into a world of revolution, violence, blood, the loss of property, and death beyond imagination. It was a time of great tribulation. The carnage of mangled bodies on battle fields were faithfully talked about in the press, and remembered by military survivors. There were wars and rumors of war.
In America, in 1812, the British returned to Washington, D.C. to try and reconquer the newly formed, United States of America. The White House was burned. The banking industry was ready to collapse. In 1837 there would be a terrifying financial panic that would bring poverty, and hunger to millions. To many, it seemed like the world was coming to an end.
Religious charlatans, like John Nelson Darby, realized they could exploit the fears of God’s people by passing themselves off as a prophet. The charlatans said they believed in progressive revelation, and they had heard from God.
The false teachers said the Church should forget about Jude 3 and contending for the historic faith once delivered to the saints, and learn from them. New secrets, new insights, new revelations were being handed down. So, the Brethren Movement, which originated in Dublin, Ireland gave the world, John Nelson Darby, who promoted a false vision of hope; God’s people were going to escape any more great tribulation. But John Darby was not alone with his novel visions, rooted not, in a sure Word of Scriptural prophesy, but in his own fertile imagination.
In Palmyra, New York, there was a young American by the name of Joseph Smith, Jr. (Dec. 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844). Smith also claimed to have had a vision from God, that he wanted to teach the church.
When the Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutherans, and Congregationalists rejected his fantastic visions and new revelations, on April 6, 1830, Smith organized a few dozen believers into a new church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Notice the name for “latter” means, “occurring nearer to the end of something, rather than the beginning.”
Just like in Europe, people in America believed they were living in the last days, and the world was going to end very soon.
From 1830 on, the great objective of Joseph Smith, Jr. was to gather as many people into settlements, called “Cities of Zion,” where they would find refuge from the calamities of the last days.
They, as the people of God, they, as the true Church of Latter-Day Saints, would escape any period of great tribulation soon coming on earth.
The novel ideas of John Nelson Darby, and Joseph Smith, Jr. did not go away. With the passing of time, their ideas have been added to by many other prophets, with even more sensational teachings. Today, people are still being scared by prophetic teachers. The false comfort that was offered two hundred years ago, is the false comfort that is being offered today by those who see great cataclysmic events ahead. God’s people are being told that before some special tribulation period to come, the Christian community will not have to suffer.
In Matthew 5:10, and elsewhere, the words of Christ refute all the false teaching about suffering.
Jesus did not teach that His people would escape tribulation. He taught just the opposite.
Listen to the words of the Lord.
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus did not pray His people would be taken out of the world when great tribulation comes to the earth.
“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”
Jesus did teach that those who suffer for righteousness’s sake are favored by God.
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’s sake.”
Let it be stated as plainly as possible. The Bible teaches no escape from the trials and tribulations of life. Consider four lines of evidence that Christians shall know great pressure and persecution during their pilgrimage on this earth until the Second Coming of Christ.
First, there are the words of Jesus. In Matthew 24:9 Jesus told His disciples,
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.”
Jesus taught that His disciples are not above the Master. If the world hated Christ, and it did, if the world killed Christ, and it did, if the world afflicted Christ, and it did, then so shall the world treat His followers. Jesus has prepared the hearts of His disciples for hostility in the Devil’s world.
There is a second line of evidence that Christians shall not escape tribulation. Notice the comments of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 14:22 we read that when Paul visited the Churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, he went to the churches,
“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Paul was a realist. The leaders of Rome were against the church, and he knew it. There was Nero.
Nero, a man with light blue eyes, thick neck, protruding stomach, and spindly legs, was a crazed and cruel emperor, a pleasure driven-man who ruled the world by whim and fear (Mark Galli).
When the city of Rome began to burn, the rumors persisted that Nero had sung his own poem, “The Sack of Troy.”
Nero tried to blame the fire on the city’s small Christian community, and so he burned many Christians alive as punishment. Paul knew that Nero was a mad man, and would hurt the people of God, and hurt them he did. Even Peter and Paul were eventually put to death by Nero. Paul knew it would happen, and during his life, like the Lord, he prepared the church for great tribulation, or suffering.
Consider a third argument that Christians shall always know tribulation until the return of Jesus.
There is the testimony of time. All the Apostles, except John, suffered a violent death, because of their loyalty to Christ. The early church produced many martyrs, like Ignatius, who became bishop of the church in Antioch only about 20 years after Paul received his missionary call there.
Escorted to his death by ten Roman soldiers, Ignatius said,
“I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.”
In AD 165, the Christian apologist, Justin, and six of his friends, were executed for the cause of Christ.
“You can kill us,”
he wrote the emperor,
“but not hurt us.”
Across the Roman empire, the disciples of Christ suffered persecution for the sake of righteousness. The blood drops of the martyrs became the fertile seed of the church, from which sprang faith and spiritual fruit. The people of God faced persecution with great courage. They did not go to their deaths as sheep to a slaughter, but as more than conquerors for Christ.
Dr. William Bixler argues, that the martyr’s nonviolent response to trial and torture was never equated with passivity, or resignation. For the early church, the act of martyrdom was a spiritual battle of epic proportion against the powers of hell itself. The early martyrs found the courage to face tribulation because they believed that if they suffered for Christ, they would reign with Him in the world to come. The church suffered because people believed that their faithfulness was a strategic part of Christ’s victory. The church embraced the idea of persecution in order to be favored by God.
There is a fourth line of evidence that Christians will never escape periods of persecution until the return of Jesus, and that is the evidence of today. The year 2021 saw the worst persecution of Christians in history, according to the 2022 World Watch List released by Open Doors Ministries.
With the passage of time, the church in America will probably come under more and more persecution, in as far as Christians begin to vigorously protest the practices and policies of evil.
To speak against abortion, homosexuality, and the WOKE agenda, is to invite persecution.
It may very well be that the church is largely at peace with the world in America, because, in part, the church has lost her prophetic voice calling the nation to repentance. Dr. William Hendriksen notes,
“When the faith of God’s children has developed sufficiently to be outwardly manifested so that those who do not share it with them begin to take notice, persecution results.”
The persecution may be physical. The persecution may be in the form of verbal abuse, insults, and falsehoods. When such times of great tribulation comes, it must not be thought that God is angry or has left His people. Rather, it is time for rejoicing.
“Be exceeding glad,”
“for great is your reward in heaven.”
The joy that is found in suffering for Christ is not a joy in the pain itself. The joy comes by knowing that one is indeed a Christian. The joy comes by knowing that there is an eternal home in heaven.
The Christian is not to retaliate. The Christian is not to try to get even. The Christian is not to harbor feelings of bitterness or resentment.
Nor is the Christian to become depressed. There is to be cultivated an attitude of rejoicing, and there can be rejoicing in the midst of the persecution. But it takes effort to think this thing through.
It takes God’s grace. There are rewards for the faithful who do not abandon Christ in the midst of persecution. The rewards of the righteous include unmixed joy, and glory, and holiness, and purity, and wonder! (Dr. M. Lloyd- Jones)
In the days and years to come, you and I will probably be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Some of us know already what it is to have sleepless nights, mental anguish, and soul despair because of the evil that men do. The proper response that Jesus wants us to have is stated. It is the will of the Lord that when tribulation comes, we rejoice and be exceeding glad for great will be our reward in heaven.
We can begin today to ask the Lord to prepare our hearts for His great work in us, and our great work in the world, until the day of our final departure. We want to be found faithful. We want to be able to rejoice during our tribulations. We want to receive the rewards of eternity. We want to be like Christ, who did not forsake us when His time of tribulation came. He endured the Cross, and so shall we.